What do they do all day? This thought struck me last Saturday afternoon. It is only a part-time job: mornings only, home every afternoon, feet up in front of the telly, then three months off in the summer, so it must always be a problem for the petals, putting in the hours, putting in the days.
I tell a lie. It will be only two months off this summer, because the season continues until 19 May, and then pre-season training starts around mid-July. All the same, two full months with nothing to do, on top of all the other time off in which they are doing . . . well, what are they doing?
Yes, I know they have to count their money. That can be quite time-consuming if you've got £40,000 coming in every week. It is easy to envy modern players and their big wads, but everyone with money will tell you that having cash pouring in on a regular basis demands constant attention. Spending it is hard when you have so much, investing it is hellish when there are so many chancers trying to get their hands on it. When they ask me, as they often do, I always say the same thing: put it into property, lads, which you can see and keep an eye on. Ignore any tax-free, fancy accountancy schemes in the Caymans.
Then there are the cars. That also takes a lot of thought. Not just deciding which to buy, but deciding which to drive. My chum Dwight Yorke faces this dilemma every time he goes out. He likes to use his Ferrari when it's sunny or if he's going somewhere exciting. His Range Rover is for when it's grey and wet. His Mercedes is for going to business meetings. But what happens when he wakes up, hears that the weather forecast is for showers, and he's going to a business meeting that could turn out to be exciting? You see. It's not easy being a player today. So I have answered my own question about what they do all day. But what I was really thinking about was the time spent training.
The question popped into my head at Highbury, when Arsenal got a free kick just on the edge of the Middlesbrough penalty area. The referee, Paul Durkin, put his foot over the ball and waited. And waited. And waited. A good 20 seconds elapsed before Robert Pires got his arse into gear. He stared around, wondering which team he was playing for, what country he was in, and then ambled over. He totally wasted it.
It is remarkable how so many teams this season are crap at dead-ball situations. It seems that no tactic has been worked out in training, no player designated to take control. It's as if each time they get a corner or free kick, it is a complete surprise.
We know that, when he is playing, Beckham takes them for Man Utd, because they are a well-organised team, though his free kicks have been poor this season. But Arsenal are hopeless, with no apparent plans, apart from letting Pires and Silvinho talk among themselves as to who'll miss. Liverpool are not much better. One of the reasons why Leeds have done so well this season is that Ian Harte has emerged as their dead-ball specialist. And the rest of the team know what to do.
It is hard to figure out what the rest of our top teams and top players have been doing in training all season, or in their footballing lives so far. They've known, or hoped, since the age of eight that they would end up as professional players, yet only 5 per cent can kick properly with both feet. Why didn't they train themselves?
As for goalkeepers, in every game I am astounded at how often they just belt the ball upfield, fingers crossed, eyes closed. In theory, the chance of their own team getting the ball is 50-50. The theory being - take this bit slowly - that there are only two teams, so our lot are bound to get it half the time. But they rarely do. By my reckoning, it's more like 60-40 to the opposition. Yet they keep on doing it.
Fabien Barthez is a good goalkeeper because his instinct is always to kick or throw short, not belt it blindly upfield. The theory - take this even slower - is that if you give it to one of your own team, the chance of getting possession is 100 per cent. So these were my thoughts, as I wondered about all those hours our players spend training, without ending up trained. Running, yes; fitness and stuff, yup; but actually working on tactics, norralot.
I have observed some of our top clubs in training, and they are very fond of shooting at cardboard cut-outs. That could be the problem. Come the game, the other team moves and it ruins everything.
My next thought, after Pires had wasted that free kick, was to look up at the boxes underneath the clock stand and think: what do they do all day, those luxury boxes? When we all go home, what happens to them?
All over the country, we now have palatial stadia, with fantastic facilities, costing trillions, yet they are used only once a fortnight for nine months of the year. They have kitchens and lavatories, so why can't people live in them? Great views of a green field, no traffic and dead quiet. I'd take one. There are also hospitality suites, which could house entire hospitals. The residents would merely have to move out, or neatly pack their clothes away, for 90 minutes every two weeks.
Then I came home and had a lie down. No one can say that football is not stimulating. But sometimes my little brain can handle only so many questions . . .